Hoarding may initially appear to be somewhat of a hobby or collection but often times may become a case of a disorder known as compulsive hoarding. Hoarding disorders often are the cause for unhealthy and unsafe conditions for the hoarder themselves, their families, pets, and other loved ones.
Hoarding includes the excessive acquisition/collection of objects - often times animals - that the hoarder has the inability or difficulty to limit or know when to stop collecting. The hoarder will have great difficulty in discarding objects that can sometimes cover the entire living areas of the home; this may cause significant distress for the hoarder and their families. Often, hoarders believe they need the things they collect or may need them in the future and may have difficulty in the realization that the objects they collect are insignificant or of no use now or in the future.
Compulsive hoarding causes great distress in mental, emotional, physical, and financial health; over time, these things will deteriorate or dwindle.
Fortunately, there is help for hoarders in which they and their family members can help identify, deal with, and solve some of the problems associated with hoarding. Problems include unsanitary living conditions, a home with difficult-to-access egress in the event of a fire or other event or emergency, self-alienation, the potential loss of friends and family members, and in general, an unpleasant, unhealthy, and unsafe environment.
The key to helping a hoarder is to understand the disorder itself; most of the time, there is an underlying mental health condition or matter that needs tending to. Knowing the signs and seeking assistance are the first steps that the hoarder or their family members need to take in successfully bringing the situation to a resolution. Over time, with the proper professional care and help, the hoarder can be treated and their families can identify how to best help the person live a healthy and safe lifestyle.
There are times when public health officials, fire, or building departments must take action on extensive hoarding to eliminate health and safety risks to neighbors or others. If pets are involved, the local humane society may have to take action. This is difficult for the hoarder to endure, so at all costs, it is imperative to help the hoarder from reaching this stage. If the hoarder is a renter, they can be evicted through legal action if their disorder has caused safety or health-related damage to the property or other tenants.
Some elder services organizations, government agencies, or landlords will attempt to work with the hoarder before taking legal action. In extreme cases, immediate legal action may need to be taken to eliminate serious risk to public health, children, animals, etc. There are times when the home may need to be condemned by authorities as the sanitary violations/conditions are so egregious that it makes the home uninhabitable for humans.
Different public agencies have different criteria for taking immediate action. It is essential for everyone working with an individual who hoards to understand their partner agencies' legal obligations and restrictions. For example, a local health department may take legal action at a different stage than a mental health professional, or an animal protection agency for example.
For more information on hoarding and how to find professional resources; visit:
- Psychology Today: The Psychology Behind Hoarding
- American Psychiatric Association-What is a Hoarding Disorder?
- Mayo Clinic: Hoarding Disorders and Symptoms:
- North Shore Center for Hoarding and Cluttering
- North Shore Center for Hoarding and Cluttering Pamphlet:
- Program for Families of Hoarders – North Shore Elder Services
- Massachusetts Hoarding Resources Directory
- MassHousing: Hoarding Resources, Training, Information